Athletic derail Real Madrid’s bid for the double

Sports Desk, Feb 3 (EFE).- Athletic Club nipped Real Madrid 1-0 Thursday in their Copa del Rey quarterfinal, putting an end to the LaLiga leaders’ hopes of the domestic double and sustaining their own quest for a 24th title in the competition.

The celebration in Bilbao followed a crushing defeat for Basque derby rivals Real Sebastian at the hands of Real Betis in Thursday’s other quarterfinal.

Real Madrid prevailed 2-0 over Athletic Jan. 16 in the Spanish Supercup final in Saudi Arabia, but the author of one of the Blancos’ goals in that game, Karim Benzema, was out of the squad for the Copa del Rey tie due to injury.

The initiative belonged to the hosts during the first half at San Mames, winning six corners, and Dani Garcia tested Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois with a blast from close range.

Even so, the sides went to the dressing rooms knotted 0-0.

Athletic kept up the pressure and Courtois had to be sharp to deny Iñigo Martinez early in the second half, but as the match wore on, the home team began to pay the price for the frenetic pace and the run of play tilted in Real Madrid’s favor.

Yet the Blancos failed to take advantage of the shift and with a minute left in regulation, Athletic’s Mikel Vesga intercepted a pass out from the back and relayed the ball to Alex Berenguer, who bested Courtois with a shot just inside the far post.

Isco Alarcon missed the net on an opportunity for the equalizer in the 94th minute and Athletic grabbed the semifinal berth after knocking off holders Barcelona and mighty Real Madrid in succession.

The jubilation in Bilbao was a stark contract from the somber mood 101 km (60 mi) east in San Sebastian, where Sociedad fans saw their team eliminated from the Copa del Rey by Betis for the third time in four seasons.

To make matters worse, a pair of former Sociedad players accounted for three of the visitors’ four goals. Juanmi scored 12 minutes into each half to make it 2-0 for Betis and Willian Jose converted a penalty in the 83rd minute.

Aitor Ruibal added a fourth goal with three minutes remaining in regulation.

Sociedad looked to have equalized just before half-time when Adnan Januzaj hammered in a David Silva cross, but the goal was disallowed for an offside.

Valencia, an eight-time Copa del Rey winner, and surprising Rayo Vallecano clinched semifinal berths on Wednesday. EFE ro-cr/dr

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